Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sabudana Thalipeeth - a Maharastrian delicacy made my way

Hope everyone's weekend was fun and fulfilling. Mine is (I have a few more hours left in the day and I definitely will milk it to the last possible minute:-)). With showers coming down strongly for the last 2 days, it has been a little cooler than it was earlier in the week. The trees and shrubs in the yard are doing a happy dance, fresh from their bath, the dust is washed off the leaves and they look spotless, brighter and happier.

I worked from home due to a really minor and freak fall I had at work (no worker's compensation material, this one :-)), lesson learnt - dont try to walk on a foot that is asleep, and don't lean on a chair handle that is not fixed. The foot swell up to a small pumpkin size and refused to go into the shoes. It was like Cinderalla's much bigger sister trying to squeeze her foot into the dainty little glass slippers, I gave up and opted to work from home for last 2 days. There was so much to catch up coming back from the 4 day long vacation and the working from home just seemed to stretch the days longer. I was exhausted completely when I wrapped up late Friday evening and the positivity of the vacation had almost wore off.
After 3.5 days of icing and keeping the foot elevated, it has shrunk to almost the original size and I am able to walk around normally. Getting up and walking around in the slightly wet, totally green and beautifully fragrant yard helped me to bounce back. We did our (hopefully) last round of spring cleaning this weekend, yeah it takes all of spring and then some to get it done :-), and are now just waiting excitedly for DD to get home next week. 3 weeks of summer bliss after that.

I recently read an article by a very popular Indian nutritionist named Rujuta Diwekar here. I will say it is one of the more comprehensive write ups about the food we eat, trends in people's food habits and the changing fads and notions about super foods at any given time. I say comprehensive because it almost touched on both sides of the coin and one term that resonated with me is the 'yo-yo' concept of adapting a certain trend as the super food only to find a few years later that it never was a super food and then jump to something different. I guess we humans take joy in transient things in life and are always on the look out for something??
I liked the detailed explanation in that article about why not to go after certain food fads, and her championing locally grown food. However, I personally feel that there is a need for tailoring the traditional food habits to the modern life too. Given the life style differences between our generation and that of our parents & grandparents, it simply is not realistic to assume that we would digest and benefit from the food in the same way they once did. My physical activity is nowhere to close to that of what my parents did, I sit infront of my laptop for more than 8 hours a day by way of work and then some more hours of browsing, emailing, personal work on the machine. I have to make a conscious effort to get my limbs moving while my parents got their 10K steps easily as part of their daily chores. It was much easier for them to digest the 2 spoons of ghee than it is for me :-). While I like her argument of continuing the traditional food habits, I would still tailor those to suit the current life style. If I were a farmer working in the field or someone doing manual labor every day, 2 spoons of ghee would have been a necessity perhaps, but for now it is a luxury that grows on my waistline :-). She is the nutritionist, I am not. So my opinion is my own and I am not asking anyone to follow it.
Talking of traditional food, here is one. Simple, delicious and preferred on 'vrat' days. Now that concept of 'vrat' when you are supposed to be eating light or fasting entirely is one of the most misused terms in Indian culture. Don't get me wrong, there are folks that do an honest 'fasting' and then there are some who just eat better tasting, richer food in the name of fasting/vrat :-). There is a funny poem in Kannada which goes like this, "aache mane subbamange, ivattu ekadasi upavasa, eno swalpa tintarante, avalakki, uppittu, paayasa .." :-). I won't attempt to translate it as it will spoil the fun for me but here is the synopsis of it - a lady named Subbamma was fasting on a day and she was eating a food mountain that had a multitude of dishes. Mostly, vrat days are those when people do not eat certain ingredients or ingredients in certain forms, the most common one being rice. So there is no cooked rice consumed on vrat days but there are a lot of great food and in some regions vrat foods are way more delicious than the every day, common man food.
My parents also would not eat rice on certain nights for dinner for religious beliefs and we would actually fight to get a bite of the delicious uppittu or avalakki or rotti instead of our boring anna-saaru for dinner. One of my aunts didn't eat rice in the evenings at all and her tiffin items were so sought after that she always made extra quantity for us kids :-).

This thalipeeth (or rotti) is a favored dish during vrat time in the western region of Maharashtra in India. But since I don't follow vrat, I end up making these whenever we fancy eating them. That is the best part about these traditions, they don't stop you from making/eating these delicacies on non vrat days :-). Traditionally, boiled potatoes are used in this recipe as the binding agent, I chose to add my favorite jicama instead. It works well and tastes delicious, less starchy than the spuds.

5/16/16 update: Thank you all for your interest in the recipe and questions about Jicama (pronounced as Hee Ka Ma). I realized I should have given some details about this vegetable since it is not a common one we use. Jicama is a tuber grown widely in South America (and other parts of the world) and is used commonly in Mexican cuisine. It is a tuber, usually round in shape and has a thick outer skin that needs to be peeled off. You can eat it raw or cooked, it imparts a crisp, slightly sweetish taste to the dishes. Find more information here. I have used these in cutlets and also salads.

What do you need? 
Makes about 7 thalipeeths (good bf for 2 people)
1 cup sago/sabudana/sabbakki
1 small jicama
1/4 cup peanuts (raw or roasted)
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
2 green chilies (finely chopped
2 Tbsp Rajgira flour (replace with rice flour if you like)
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 Tsp oil to roast thalipeeth
How do you make? 
  • Wash sago in 2-3 changes of water, soak in water just above the sago level(about a cup) in a wide pan over night or atleast 5 hours. 
  • You will get plumped up (it doubles in size) sago and if the amount of water is right, it will all be soaked in. 
  • If you had added extra water, don't fret, just take the entire soaked sago into a colander and let it sit and drain for 10-15 minutes before using.
  • If you had less water, don't  fret either, sprinkle a couple Tbsp water on the sago and let it sit for another 15-20 minutes
  • And finally, if the soaked sago is a little mushy, don't fret at all :-) as it helps in forming a dough easily. Remember you are looking for a soft, soaked sago with no running water accompanying it.
  • Wash, peel jicama and chop into quarters. Take it in a microwave safe bowl, cover with water and cook until soft and given in when pressed (about 10mins and I removed the bowl after 5 mins and set it back again)
  • If you are not a MW user, go ahead and boil the jicama pieces in a pot of water until they are tender. 
  • Take them out of water, let cool down and grate. You need about a cup of grated, boiled jicama for this recipe. 
  • If you are using roasted peanuts, just crush them (you can make a powder if you like or keep some pieces for the bite in the thalipeeth, choice is yours)
  • If using raw peanuts, roast them dry in a pan until the skin develops golden spots, let cool, remove the skin by rubbing the nuts together ina ziplock. Crush or powder them. 
  • Or you can even use the peanut powder if you have it ready at home :-) and save some work. 
  • Take a wide bowl (where you can work your hand muscles), add soaked sago, crushed peanuts, salt, chopped cilantro, green chilies and grated jicama. Use the hand and fingers to bring them all together into a mushy dough. 
  • Add the flour and mix well. If you take a handful of mixture it should stay as a ball and not break/fall apart at this stage. 
  • Heat a flat griddle on medium heat. 
  • Take an aluminium foil, put a couple drops of oil and spread it around. 
  • Pinch off a big lemon sized piece from the dough, place it in the center of foil and pat into a circle of desired thickness and size using your fingers. Dip your fingers in water to help the patting process and avoid sticking of the dough. 
  • Spread a couple drops of oil on the griddle, place the sheet with the thalipeeth side down and let it cook for a minute. 
  • Gently lift and peel off the sheet after a minute and let the thalipeeth cook for another 30seconds or until you notice the underside get golden brown spots all over. 
  • Flip it and let the other side cook for a minute. 
  • On medium-low heat, a thalipeeth takes about 2.5-3 minutes to cook completely. Do not do this on high heat. 
  • Transfer the cooked thalipeeth to a plate and enjoy when it is hot with a cup of yogurt of chutney/chutney pudi of choice. 
  • Sago should be soaked until soft for this recipe, do not use if it is dry, add some more water and let it soak.
  • Jicama starts off fibrous(like kohlrabi) when it is raw but gains a little starch as it is cooked and works its charm.
  • You can use a plastic sheet to pat the thalipeeth, and transfer them onto your hand and then to the griddle if you like :-). I prefer the ease of aluminium sheets as they can be put on the hot griddle and left there for a minute before peeling off of the thalipeeth. Plastic will not stand the heat. 
  • If you have access to banana leaves, go ahead and use them, they are the best :-)
  • The flour helps absorb excess moisture and make the dough pliable. If you choose not to add any dough at all, be gentle while patting, transferring and flipping the thalipeeth as it will easily break.
  • This thalipeeth tastes best when eaten right off the griddle, it tends to become stretchy as it cools down due to the inherent sago texture. 
  • Use potatoes (as in the classic, traditional recipe) by all means, I sometimes like to experiment with locally available veggies. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A pictorial of food & my mother's day ode to the baby that made me a mom

Happy Mother’s day all! Hope all of you mothers and motherly figures had a special day with loved ones. Wishing you all unconditional love and joy in life.

I am not at home this weekend, BH & I flew out to meet DD at school as she finished up her final exams and graduated from a nervous, new-on-campus freshman kid to a confident, young lady ready to start her sophomore journey after a quick summer break. It still seems like yesterday when we dropped her off at the campus last summer, the year went by in the blink of an eye and here we are, moving her out of her dorm room for the summer. The long awaited summer break is here, I know she is going to be able to spend only part of the next 3 months at home while she continues to do the activities her heart is set on for the rest of the time. The baby I hold close to heart is spreading wings beyond what I could have imagined 17 years back. With her kindness and happy enthusiasm to everything around her, she is making me aware of life the way I never would have imagined. She is teaching me via her infectious laugh and never exhausting smile that life is so much more beautiful than I choose to accept sometimes with my adult brain. She is showing me that as long as one is passionate about something, one can make the days stretch beyond what the 'clock on the wall' tells you to get things done. She says things that are so mature and while I am wondering where the wisdom came from, she immediately turns around and giggles like a toddler brightening up my world both ways. I don’t know if I ever taught her any of these things, I wish I could take all the credit for it :-). But she is so much more than me, shaped by the loving, caring family that surrounds her, her teachers and mentors all these 17+ years that have helped silently sculpt the person she is, her circle of friends that support her endlessly. There are several mothers involved in the process of bringing up this child of mine, I am just glad I got to be the lucky one that is called as ‘mom’. When I see this baby I held in my arms not a long while ago and whom I hold in my heart always, for all this and much more, I am thankful for the gift of motherhood and proud of being  her amma. 

Social media is bursting at the seams with all the pictures, quotes, memories, tributes to moms and the one I liked best out of all I have seen so far is this: “Moms are the best because of each of us have the best one” J. Think about it, isn’t it true though?

Every mom, no matter whether she is educated or not, working or not, rich or not, is the best when it comes to the role of being a mother. Something in motherhood that takes away the blemishes of the person and makes her pure magic atleast for as long as she is in that role. Something in the motherhood elevates the person to go beyond what is ordinarily possible, it gives her the strength, the spirit to bring up her child and provide opportunities that never existed for anyone without the ‘mommy’ glasses on eyes.

Tired after all the packing, moving and storing of stuff and a little discouraged by the hot weather in the area, we are mostly staying in and as DD says, “we are lazying out at the hotel room”. While she has had a wonderful time in every other aspect at the campus, food is something she is still struggling to fall in love with or rather atleast like enough to survive on L. She is heading out with a volunteering group for a week long trip, and home food is still atleast 10days away from her. So when I asked her what she wanted to eat during the 4 days she was to stay with us in the hotel, she said, “Everything” with the exception of bread, cheese, pasta. She didn't want to go out (not for every meal atleast) and also wanted as much home food as was possible to make. Knowing that I couldn’t carry my kitchen on my shoulders (Delta airlines wouldn’t have taken kindly to an ordinary passenger like me trying to transport truck loads of stuff on the flight J),  I also had to consider the possibility of setting off alarms by my cooking in an usually closed room. I did the next best thing I could think of, made a plan for the meals and prepped the ingredients as far as I could for DD’s favorite dishes and brought them in my check in. So here we are, sitting in the middle of a city, surrounded by quite a few decent choices for Indian and non Indian food but cooking full fledged meals in a hotel room and enjoying every bit of it. Home made food cooked in the hotel, works for us.

So, I don’t have a recipe today but lots of pictures of what we are serving up these last 3 days, yep, a little showing off too. All these are cell phone quality pictures, not blog worthy for their quality but they have so much love in them which makes them perfect for the blog :-). Most of the ingredients were hand picked and prepped at home, some fresh produce brought here locally, aided by a packet of store bought rotis.  So enjoy the pictures and have a joyous Mother’s day and I will see you all next week with a yummy recipe when I return home.
Uppittu made from a mixture of roasted rave & semia, served with chutney pudi

Uppittu, chutney pudi and delicious tomato saaru

Menthya soppina bhaath, with MW roasted papad and salad

Delicious bhaath studded with golden roasted spuds

Tender cucumber, carrots, loads of cilantro and fresh lime juice

Yogurt rice with pickle, yummm!!!

2 kinds of roti, eggplant palya, dal, sweet mangoes and mosaravalakki in the background

Red lentils cooked with lemon cucumber and cilantro

Add caption
Broccoli stir fry a south Indian simple carrot palya
And we have a favorite restaurant here in town we have visited a couple times and go there for the yummy, mysore special akki rotti and the thick, golden roasted Mysore masala dose just like you crave for, makes your day :-)
Akki rottiiiiii, special only means extra coconut :-)

Not hotel oily mysuru masala dose
And then there is a beautiful temple in the town where you get the perfect temple prasada :-) along with divine darshana!
Idli, chutney & sambar, yes pickle too :-)

Full plate - vangi bhaath, mosaranna, mixture, kesari bhaath & pickle

Another combo plate - replace vangi bhaath with puliyogare
I am sure you can all see how we are surviving with our limited access to our favorite kinda food :-), I am sure all the eating and sitting in the room is making me go back home heavier than I came here 5 days back with. Not something Delta will notice but I sure will have to breathe in, jump a little to fit myself into office clothes come Wednesday morning.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Boodukumbala kaayi (Ashgourd/winter melon) dose - changed perspective with a swapped in ingredient

Changing one's vision changes one's sight - Acharya Vivek

Random rambling alert on today's blog post:-). If you like to go to the recipe directly, please feel free to do so below. Let my ramblings not dilute the delicious dish I have today, I will say only this - this is a dose/dosa recipe that changes your perspective on dosa, the ingredients that are in the recipe are not what you would expect from a typical South Indian dose recipe, but then with so many changes around you, what really is typical anymore? Your last chance to scroll down to the recipe before the ramblings come down in an avalanche :-) and here is a teaser of the dish..
I wrote the quote at the head of the post today for a reason, that single sentence seemed to convey so much that I have been grappling to take in recently. Stereotypes broken, traditions created a-new.. isn't that part of life and while I am looking wide eyed around me, this quote finds its way into my inbox as if to summarize all that is happening.

I grew up in a small city, culturally vibrant, educational hub for some of the best education possible at the time, nonetheless small and contained. I also grew up in a family that was interested in music, literature and arts as well as scientific education. I am grateful for all of this and what it has made me in life today. But as life takes me to different places through different experiences, I learn every step of the way that my values are solidified with what I know thus far and the only way to broaden horizons is to be accepting of things that I may not know of and keep an open mind.
Music has been an integral part of life for me and I am no stranger to music concerts. But we went to a certain kind of music concerts always, mainly the classical kind. There was no dearth of concerts in Mysore and the music lovers in the city didn't need excuses to arrange concerts either. There were big scale concerts around Rama Navami and Dasara but rest of the year used to witness multiple music programs sponsored by various sabhas (organizations). I went to many, many concerts with family and enjoyed them all. Big brother studying in the Northern part of India introduced us to the joys of Hindustani classical, high school and college days saw me listen to many light classical ghazals, post marriage I enjoyed a lot more Lata, Rafi, Kishore Kumar style with BH and then as DD grew up into a music loving teenager, I was introduced to many of her favorites in Pop, jazz and all the new age genre. I love all kinds of music as long as it suits my mood at that time, but have really not attended many non classical concerts in my life. BH & I went to one last evening by a very popular musician, classically trained but into Indian movie music.
It was almost an eye opener, everything about the program was so different from my mental image of a music concert :-). The big stadium, the dancing crowd, loud speakers, flashing lights and the musicians engaging the audience all of it seemed to contrast and almost defy everything I held as part of my definition of a music concert where audience are engaged in a very subtle and gentle way, the most visible movement you see is a nod of the head or a pat on the knees as you try to keep with the percussion and the musicians themselves are more inward than outward. My initial reaction was one of total hesitation but as I got into the music, I found it totally enjoyable and in no time was enjoying the real music behind all the glitter. Great experience and only because I was ready to lift the veil off of my perceptions and change the vision!! Thanks to the local chapter of Sankara Eye foundation for organizing the program as they also fund raised for a good cause.
Today's recipe is one of changing the vision too. Millets started showing up as part of super healthy food on the blogosphere a few years back. There has been so much discussion about embracing healthy foods such Oats and Quinoa Versus the Desi grown millets. I accept that I am not an early adapter of changes, I let things settle down a little, feel comfortable before jumping on any band wagon. Though I kept hearing about the millets from various sources, I didn't spend a lot of energy researching them until much later. The only millet I was familiar with was Raagi or finger millet which I love and then jowar or sorghum. Raagi is a regular at home with the famed Raagi mudde and jowar has been silently sneaking into the kitchen for years since we love jolada rotti. Other than these two, I had pretty much stayed away from the millets, or rather was ignorant and uneducated about the existence of other millets.

For my background as a South Indian from Mysore, no meal is satisfying without the fluffy, white steamed rice. Most of us do not even consider brown rice as edible, it is almost snobbish the way people like me turn their noses to anything but the light, pearly white, super fluffy sona masoori rice :-). If you were to feed me a sticky jasmine rice, you would have to be a very patient, gently coaxing mentor :-), otherwise chances of success would be highly diminished. As we grew up, and also due to the lack of easy accessibility to rice made me add lot of wheat (another grain I was familiar with) and then slowly steer towards the easily reachable oats, quinoa and barley. Over the years, I have experimented with these different, possible supplements for my white rice. I still love my white rice but have successfully incorporated other grains and seeds in to the daily routine. And yes, brown rice makes its way into our kitchen too.

When I first heard of millets, I had no clue what they were. Nammamma never made anything like this, nor did amma. A year or so back, on a trip to my local grocery story, I found an entire shelf of packets that had different looking ingredients. Out of curiosity, I picked up each one of them and read the labels and then one of them caught my attention. The label said kodo millet and had the name in multiple Indian languages and the Kannada name was 'Harka'. This took me to a favorite novel of mine I have read and re-read many times by a famed Kannada author called S.L.Byrappa and there is a reference of Harka in that book as a rice substitute but the part I remembered was how people in plague ridden parts of the state had no access to rice for many months and had to survive on lesser desired things such as Harka which caused familial fights. While reading the book, I had never bothered to find out what harka was but here it was glaring in my face after all these years in my adopted country.

I brought small packets of every single variety of millet home that day and tried to cook with it. More than cooking, I was somehow trying to relate to and connect with all those ancestors that had lived the nightmare of the plague in those times. Millets are actually seeds very much like Quinoa which is the modern day super food and have higher fiber content than rice and better nutrition than polished rice too. I have been experimenting with these millets for almost 2 years now but haven't really written a lot about them. They are great rice supplements if you are looking for one and you can have them with any side dish just like rice. Depending on the variety, you may find and need to adjust how you cook or use them as some of them are bigger in size than others and may take longer to cook.
Initially I started adding them to my dose and idli batter while still keeping a major portion of rice. But once we got over the initial hesitation, I extended the proportion of millets and now have recipes which do not use rice at all. I am not saying rice is bad, my family has consumed rice all their lives and lived a pretty healthy life but as times change and if you are actively looking for other ingredients, millets are ready to take that spot without hesitation. Of the varieties I have used, 2 of my favorites are the foxtail millet (navane in kannada) and the little millet (Saama in Kannada). I find kodo millet to be dry and also the packages that I got had a lot of dirt that had to be picked. I don't get barnyard millet all the time here so no specific bias on that one.

Foxtail millet is good if you are making rice varieties (Ex: tamarind rice, chitranna etc) as it holds shape and can be cooked fluffy. Little millet is perfect for batters as it soaks and grinds easily. It is also great in and recipes like pongal, BBB etc since it tends to cook to a mushy consistency. Unlike quinoa, the millets do not have a smell or taste of their own thus making them invisible super ninjas as you replace them with rice in any recipe. Today's recipe is a coastal Karnataka favorite made with rice and ashgourd, I replaced the rice with little millet. Ashgourd is summer vegetable, when the mercury hits high and you are craving for something watery and cool, this is a go to vegetable. This dose is delicious whether you make it right out of the blender or let it sit for a few hours. All I had to do was change my vision to find better sight :-), go ahead and give it a try. If you are hesitant to try millets, make this dose with regular rice. Either way it is a keeper recipe!!

If this interests you to try other millet recipes, let me know with a comment on the blog post, I will get to post them sooner than following my lethargic pace :-)
What do you need? 
2-2.5 cups grated ashgourd
2 cups millet
1 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1 Tbsp urad dal (you can skip this if you like)
1 Tbsp poha or avalakki (thick variety)
1 Tsp cumin seeds
4-5 green chilies
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
couple Tsp oil to roast dose
How do you make? 

  • Wash, pick any dirt from the millet and soak it in water along with fenugreek, urad dal and poha for 4-6 hours. Do it overnight if you have time or if you are using the thicker millets like foxtail millet. 
  • Wash, peel the outer skin and grate the ashgourd. Collect all the water it releases while grating and reserve for later use. 
  • Drain the water you have used for soaking and add the ingredients to a blender along with cumin and green chilies. 
  • Add all the grated ash gourd reserving about 2 Tbsp for later use to the blender and blend into a smooth paste. 
  • The water from the grated ashgourd can be added while grinding to get the required consistency, use it a little at a time to avoid making a very watery mixture. 
  • Once the ingredients have turned into a smooth paste of pouring consistency, take it out into a bowl and add the remaining grated ashgourd. 
  • Add salt to the batter if you are making dose right away or wait until you are ready to make them. 
  • Heat your dosa pan or griddle on medium heat, and once the pan is hot, take a ladle full of the batter and spread it in a circular motion. 
  • This can be made as thin or as thick as you choose. 
  • Add a few drops of oil around the edge of the dose, and let it cook covered on one side for a minute on medium heat. 
  • When the underside is golden, gently nudge the dose from the pan and flip it over. 
  • Cook on the other side for 30secs and take it out onto a plate. 
  • Repeat for the remaining batter or as many doses as you need.
  • Serve hot with ghee and chutney of choice. 
  • I used sawa/little millet this time but have made it with foxtail also. You can use either of these or other millets such as kodo, barnyard or little millet. Soaking millet makes it soft for grinding and makes the dose soft too. 
  • If you like thinly spread dosas, grate a small piece of the gourd in the small hole of the grater. The rest of the gourd that goes into the blender can be done on the big holes. This makes it easier to spread. 
  • The dosas get a nice golden color with the fenugreek so do not skip that. 
  • Urad dal is optional in this recipe and I don't add it sometimes. 
  • You can make this dose with the watermelon rind instead of the ashgourd. 
  • If you like crispy dose, don't cover it while cooking and cook on one side only. 
  • I add green chilies and cumin for flavor as both millet and ashgourd are sort of bland, you can omit these ingredients and eat it with a side dish if you choose.